Intel Introduces Atom Chips for New Devices

Intel on Monday detailed plans to push its Atom processors into devices beyond just netbooks and mobile Internet devices.

The company introduced four Atom chips that will go into devices such as entertainment systems for cars, videoconferencing devices, robots and interactive kiosks, said Doug Davis, vice president of Intel's digital enterprise group.

These ultra-low-power chips can offer the rich multimedia performance and high-bandwidth Internet connectivity demanded by those devices, Davis said.

The Z500-series Atom processors are integrated chips the size of a penny that draw little power and do not require fans to operate. The chips draw 2.5 watts of power or less and run at speeds of between 1.10GHz and 1.6GHz. The chips offer integrated 2D and 3D graphics and will be manufactured using Intel's existing 45-nanometer process.

Atom chips to date have gone into low-cost laptops, also known as netbooks, and devices such as mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and smartphones. Intel has said it wants to integrate more capabilities into Atom processors that could help the company enter new markets.

With the new chips, Intel is ramping up efforts to dive into an embedded space dominated by chips made with Arm designs, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight64.

"Now that they have their Atom processor in good shape, they are looking for new places where they can ship it," Brookwood said.

Some new markets being targeted by Intel with the new chips include entertainment systems in cars and desktop videophones. For example, the new Atom Z520PT powers an in-car infotainment system that can run video without compromising on performance, Davis said.

Intel and OpenPeak also provided a reference design for a touch-screen videoconferencing phone embedded with a low-power Atom chip. Resembling a blown-up mobile Internet device, the OpenFrame home IP (Internet Protocol) phone design from OpenPeak also runs Internet-based video and social-networking applications, Davis said.

As part of the announcement, Intel also said Microsoft automotive applications would work with Intel's embedded Atom chips. Microsoft's auto division provides a software toolkit for developers to write in-car applications that include navigation and hands-free calling.

The new chips will be available in commercial quantities in the second quarter of this year. Pricing information was not immediately available.

Intel has taken a number of steps to develop integrated chips that could fit into devices such as set-top boxes and TVs. The chip maker in February said it was hurrying up the move to the new 32-nanometer process technology to produce faster and more integrated chips.

To that effect, the company said it would spend US$7 billion over two years to revamp manufacturing plants. The 32-nanometer process will also help Intel make more chips at lower costs and add efficiencies to the production process. Intel will begin producing chips with 32-nm circuitry starting in late 2009.

Intel may also be looking for outside help to develop custom Atom chips for embedded devices. Earlier on Monday, Intel entered a partnership to share the Atom chip designs with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing. TSMC customers will have access to the Atom intellectual property to develop customized chips.

The partnership with TSMC could result in the development of customized chips for Intel to access new markets it can't reach alone, Brookwood said.

If you needed customized GPS (Global Positioning System) or graphics technology on the chip, for example, you couldn't do it, as Intel doesn't provide the building blocks to do so, Brookwood said. The deal with TSMC makes that level of Atom chip customization possible, he said.

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